Sweetener wars turn sour

Is deceptive marketing the engine behind the sucralose juggernaut? Or are the lawsuits aimed at Splenda just sour grapes from the sugar industry?

Sucralose — known by the brand name Splenda and marketed by the UK?s Tate & Lyle in partnership with McNeil Nutritionals — is the fastest-growing alternative sweetener. Five years ago, it was used in 35 products worldwide, according to Datamonitor. Today, Tate & Lyle says it is found in more than 4,000 products.

The US Sugar Association, as well as Merisant (maker of aspartame-based NutraSweet), is suing McNeil over its slogan, ?Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.?

?McNeil wants you to think Splenda and sugar are like brother and sister. The truth is, they are more like third cousins twice removed by marriage,? said Jeff Cronin, director of communications for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), in Washington, DC. ?Splenda has a halo of natural, which is not entirely deserved.?

The ingredient starts with pure cane sugar, then substitutes three chlorine atoms for three hydroxyl groups. The chlorine bonds do not break down, so it passes through the body without adding calories.

A survey commissioned by CSPI found that nearly half of consumer respondents incorrectly believed Splenda to be natural. Whether consumers really care if Splenda is natural, or instead gravitate to the idea that it?s a zero-calorie sweetener, remains to be seen.

Against this backdrop, Swiss Health Sciences Group launched Shugr, a natural, no-calorie, diabetic-safe sweetener it claims tastes and cooks like sugar, and also holds the ?natural? banner uncontested.

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